The glittering gold industry and its history in Egypt was envied for centuries. Gold had been acquired through mining, or received as a tribute from allies. The various gold mines in the town of Naqada – previously known as Nubt (gold town) – are located in the historical geological map of Turin Papyrus.
Ancient Egyptians, who were worshipers of the sun, had considered the shiny yellow metal as the skin of Gods. Its sacred association with the deities gave gold a unique status. Hence, during the ancient times, only the Pharaohs were allowed to wear ornaments made of gold. However, at later stages other royal members, including the priests, were allowed to wear gold ornaments. Egyptians had used the precious metal extensively to make statues of Gods, to decorate places of worship and had also adorned the pyramids and obelisks with it.
It has long been the choice of Egyptian women to store and show off personal wealth. Egypt’s affinity with gold dates back to Pharaohnic times. Egypt emerged as the maker of modern, exquisite, one-of-a-kind gold jewelry pieces even after the exodus of European expatriates and the 1952 revolution.
For centuries, Egypt has been known for its exquisite gold creations, but this thriving industry in Egypt has been declining due to lack of regulations and international standards.
It is said that the mining activities involving separation of the metal from the rocks and boulders were usually done by prisoners and convicts. Gold mining was primarily done in the eastern desert and Nubia. The country’s never-ending quest for gold was the leading cause for their war with Nubia. The early Egyptian kings filled their tombs with gold treasures. This was first evident when archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, and the riches found inside it grabbed the media’s attention all over the world.
The lustrous nature of the metal along with its unique property to withstand corrosion has always attracted people; not only from Egypt but from almost all civilizations worldwide. Humans have always valued gold above all other metals. Apart from adorning sacred places and the thrones of people in power, gold in ancient times were used to make jewelry, ornaments and utensils.
The “Gold of Troy” treasure that was excavated by the archeologists contained a range of gold objects belonging to the 2450 -2600 B.C. era. It was around 700 B.C. that gold was given a monetary value and made into coins.
Ancient Greeks were actively involved in gold-mining operations, and their mines could be found everywhere from the Pillars of Hercules to Asia and Egypt. Their work with gold depicts high artistic skills. As gold is found abundantly near streams, ancient Greeks who lived around 500 B.C had believed that gold derived from a combination of sunlight and water.
The Romans were more advanced and had introduced various efficient techniques for separating gold from rock. With their technology, they had even exploited the old mining sites that were abandoned by the rest of the gold conquerors.
Even in modern times gold has found a place for itself in the global economy. It has always been considered the safest investment, especially during times of economic disaster and inflation. However; with the recent perceived recovery of the global economy, the lustrous metal has lost its sheen to attract people. Hence, the prices of gold has been falling gradually.
Egyptian gold had always been in demand for its exquisite creations, and they were an inspiration to craftsmen from other countries. El Sagha, dubbed the “The Street of Gold” is the hub of the gold business in Egypt. However, Egypt has failed to enforce proper regulations, regarding quality and international standards. This has caused many jewelers to introduce fake gold bars and jewels into the market, leading to the decline in the growth of this lucrative gold industry.
Before the 1980s, tourists used to throng to El Sagha to buy Egyptian gold, but with much fake and imported gold being used, the gold business in the city had been hard hit and the export of gold in Egypt was drastically reduced.
According to shop owners in the El Sagha, Egypt lacks the infrastructure and technology to extract and purify the gold. And, with the skill level dramatically gone, they are unable to deliver the expected works.
The poor security systems have led to smuggling of gold. It has been brought to light that gold is being sold at a much lesser value because it is being imported illegally. The deteriorating economy and failure to impose stringent regulations to monitor the making of gold products is attributed to the downfall of the gold industry in Egypt.
Following the January 25, 2011 uprising, the deteriorating economy and security situation has exacerbated the sector’s problems, Egyptians have less disposable income and are afraid to walk the streets wearing expensive jewelry. Unless the circumstances change, the centuries-old gold industry in Egypt could be relegated to nothing more than a glittering page in its history.
Written by: Janet Grace Ortigas